The station road usually remains calm, quiet and somewhat deserted for most of the day; filled with the sound of scattering feet and hushed (or at times, loud) voices during the morning and evening peak hours. Today, however, while walking down the very same road, I thought I'd taken a wrong turn. I looked around, past the crowds (teeming crowds, actually), and apparently, I was still at the station road; the annual 'jatra' or fair had begun—and as it has been for so many years, it was set up at the station road.
The earliest memories I have of the 'jatra' are the ones when I was about seven or eight years old. The 'jatra', or as we preferred calling it 'mela', translated into excitement; we were excited to ride on the carousels, the toy-train, the 'Dragon Boat', a host of other rattly rides; and cheap toys, of course, were a perennial attraction. A personal favourite of our's was the shooting arena. 'Arena' here is a very sophisticated term; in actuality, it was a small stall/kiosk, with many balloons stuck to a canvas and a rattly air-soft rifle to shoot with. When the target's three feet away, and when there's so many of them, accuracy is rather inevitable. But for my seven year old self, hitting a 'bullseye' within three shots (for five rupees, each) was quite an achievement.
Well, now in the present, the 'mela' has still retained its nostalgic charm; replete with the shooting 'arena', and many other small little shops, stalls, kiosks etc. I was here, neither with the intention of visiting the fair, nor for reliving the past; I had some important work. What it was, I'd forgotten for the full minute I stood there, just looking around; the colours, the noise, the voices...
"Three chances for ten rupees!"
"Necklaces! Bangles! And all kinds of jewelry! Starts at rupees thirty!"
"Come, see the Magic Show! Tickets for twenty rupees!"
Oh, things have become expensive. But, like always, the fair manages to remain affordable to the common-man.
Another voice distracted my attention; it was a woman's and I'm pretty sure it was a Marathi swear word...something about a pick-pocket. Instinctively, my hand reached my back pocket; yes, it had a bulge; the wallet is safe. I might have to keep walking this way.
So what? One can't be too safe these days, can they?
Whether it's the streets of Bruges, or the subway in New York or London, or a fair in some obscure Indian village, there are several 'cultural universals'; the way people behave in groups, religion, faith, prayer, and yes, as this case illustrates, pick-pockets, too.
While walking in a 'mela', it is nigh impossible to resist the temptation of the sheer variety of food on display; from hot, crispy bhajiyas, vada-pavs, to fresh jalebis and many, many other sweet-meats, of various sizes, shapes, colours...and names I haven't even heard of! I vaguely remember tasting some as a child—after my dad convinced me; and in spite of my initial scepticism, I think I'd enjoyed eating them too. Though I confess, I'm not too sure now; maybe, if I finally manage to learn what sweet is what.
As the sunlight faded, the artificial lights lit up the streets, the noise got louder, and the streets got worse, with the public spilling out on the roads, (well, whatever was left of it for motorists to use); Bollywood, it seems, never loses its charm. Somewhere, I heard a Hannah Montana song playing; after a closer look (yes, I was just curious) I realized it's a jingle from some kind of a guitar toy; pink, of course. Also, I could see lots of Spider-man stuff, Ben-10 and Transform-Robots. I won't say that I was cynically amused, because I wasn't; it's just that, globalization has reached well beyond the proverbial shores...and I, for one, am not really complaining.
On my way back (unfortunately, the work I set out for remained unaccomplished) I noticed a lady, presumably on what seemed like a tattoo stall (it was actually a plastic sheet she was sitting on, with xeroxed copies of many designs, and a tattoo machine). She looked at me, flexed her flabby, wrinkled biceps and pointed at one of the photos; a dragon, I think it was. I smiled, shook my head, and resumed walking.
From the sky-walk, I could see the carousels, the giant wheel and the 'Dragon Boat.' I felt a slight nudge against my shoulder; in my mind, almost subconsciously, I heard a woman swearing in Marathi...'pick-pocket'. I felt the bulge in my back pocket; yes, wallet's still there.
One can't be too careful these days, can they?